Feedback – Who is it for?

I was visiting a colleague’s office recently and he showed me a piece of student work from another university where he was an external examiner. The piece of work was covered with red ticks, crosses, under-linings, crossings out and illegible comments. We discussed it and came to the conclusion that this feedback – if that’s what it was – was not very useful and that it was something that he – as an external examiner – should comment on. As I was leaving the office, I suddenly thought of something and went back to look at the text again. As I thought, the text was on formal examination paper and it was clear that the writing we had been looking at was an examination answer, something that the students would (might) never see again. It made me realise that comment/feedback on student writing – as with all writing – depends on purpose and audience, something that does not seem to have been discussed elsewhere.

So when writing feedback/comments on student work, the two important questions we have to ask are:

  1. Who are the comments/feedback for?
  2. What is the purpose of the feedback/comments?

1. It seems to me that, depending on the context,  the feedback/comments could be for:

  • the student
  • the marker
  • the 2nd marker/moderator
  • an external examiner
  • the course/programme director
  • parents
  • sponsors
  • employers
  • the institution
  •  …

2. And the purpose could be:

  • to justify the mark – to the student
  • to justify the mark to other internal and external stakeholders
  • to defend the mark if it is necessary in future
  • to clarify thinking from the marker’s perspective – using examples from the student work and referring explicitly to the marking criteria
  • for future development – feedforward – for the student to improve their writing and content knowledge – see, for example, Hyland & Hyland (2006)
  • for course planning and development – if many students have similar negative comments, it might be something the course designer needs to look at
  •  …

And in each case the feedback would be different! I still do not like the comments that I saw on the student work in my colleague’s office, but the amount of red ink on the student writing certainly showed some justification for the low mark that student had received. Was that its purpose?

Reference

Hyland, F. & Hyland, K. (Eds.). (2006) Feedback in second language writing: Content and issues. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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